Hugh Reilly: Weighing up blame of male obesity

Stouter football fans are being offered exercise sessions by some clubs. Picture: Getty
Stouter football fans are being offered exercise sessions by some clubs. Picture: Getty
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A traditional tendency for women to feed their men too well explains in part why nearly three quarters of them are overweight, writes Hugh Reilly

SINCE the dawn of time, the female of the species has always meddled in the eating habits of the male. For example, when Adam was lazing around the Garden of Eden, his alluring mate ribbed him as to why he wasn’t munching on an apple. Eve knew fine well that omniscient Big Brother had somewhat capriciously banned the partaking of apples (which begs the question why The Almighty had concocted such a food product in the first place). However, no doubt thanks to her womanly charms – aided significantly by autumn’s ruinous effect on her already fragile fig-leaf attire – she succeeded in bending Adam’s five-a-day regime to her will. To stop her incessant encouragement, Adam chomped on the forbidden fruit, an act of betrayal that shook The Great Orchard Architect to his core. In a righteous fury, he evicted them from their bountiful surroundings, punishing them with illness and exile to a land with foul weather (according to research carried out by religious archaeologists, it is believed the couple settled in Kirkcaldy).

Football Fans In Training (FFIT) is a game-changing initiative that has caught the imagination of over-nourished men. Fans of 21 Scottish clubs, including the one Glasgow giant and the three, ahem, “big” teams fighting it out in the Scottish Championship, are taking part. The clubs are helping to reduce the size of bums on seats by offering their stouter supporters exercise sessions at football stadiums as well as lessons on healthy eating. I find this highly commendable given that the merchandising arms of these clubs are likely to see a profit downturn as sales shrink of XXXL replica football shirts.

Alas, a recent investigation revealed that the laudable goal of reducing the Body Mass Index of the average fat football fan is being undermined by an attacking front three consisting of partners, mothers and mothers-in-law. To be fair, a majority of chubby spectators reported that wives and girlfriends were generally supportive, with some football widows even going as far as cutting back on their own calorie intake. Others decided to nibble on chocolate and the like out of sight of their portly partners. A minority of partners were guilty of not keeping temptation out of the way, perhaps scoffing a cream doughnut on the sofa as hubby gnawed on raw carrot. Sadly, some women challenged the changes their menfolk had made, upset that the blokes had stopped paying for weekend Dominos pizzas and Chinese takeaways or annoyed that the mindless generosity that had first attracted them had come to a burp end, sorry, an abrupt end.

To no-one’s surprise, mums and mothers-in-law were the worst in terms of food entrapment, springing sticky toffee puddings and similar heart-stopping delights on the hefty unwary. These desserts followed on from so-called “man-sized” portions of main meals. For these voracious feeders of weak-willed males, gluttony was not a vice, more a virtue.

In my experience, matriarchs of families confuse cuisine with love. Male weight-watchers, it’s clear, are struggling against what the investigation called “deeply ingrained cultural values” that links food with caring. For example, a son’s birthday can only be successfully celebrated by ramming all manner of tasty fare down his gullet. It seems that mother can only relax when the body of her cherub eerily resembles that of a Tongan king at his wedding to a slightly post-pubescent 11th wife.

The university research claims that older mums haven’t moved on from the days when they cooked huge dinners for men who had toiled in physically demanding industries such as coal-mining, shipbuilding and steel-making. My mother didn’t have that excuse. Dad was a Glasgow Corporation lorry driver who sat on his bahookie for half the day, chain-smoking his way from one demolition site to the next. On returning to his abode, he was met with the final meal of an obese man on death row. Once he had devoured half a pig and a field row of potatoes, he gulped down sponge and custard, the speed of his spoon rendering the use of an alternative utensil, that is, a slow-moving ladle, redundant. When aged 60, he suffered a cardiac arrest and was put on a drastic diet.

Learning to “just say no” to a mother’s entreaties to eat fat-filled confections isn’t easy; after all, a refusal often offends. Diplomatically leaving some food on the plate is a no-no as it only proves the catalyst for masterchef to guilt-trip the reluctant guzzler about the plight of starving African children. It crosses one’s mind to state aloud that while giving a black kid a diet regime of grease-filled mince, suet dumpling and streaky bacon would certainly end his hunger pangs, the likelihood is that it would merely result in him dying of either Type 2 diabetes or coronary heart disease.

Of course it’s anecdotal but I’ve always found taking nutrition advice from a woman who dished out thick cheese sandwiches on heavily buttered bread to her young son difficult to swallow. It’s tough arguing health facts with someone who retorts: “Scientists? What do they know!” Mothers are always acquainted with someone who died of lung cancer but never smoked, a teetotaller who perished due to cirrhosis and an old biddy who lived to a ripe old age by dint of wolfing down red meat breakfasts and dining on pork pies.

When coercion to either eat or to comply with mother’s foodie rules doesn’t work, mums often resort to sarcasm. Announcing one prefers to consume fruit and veg is met with the pithy comment: “So you’ve decided to gorge on rabbit food now…” Depending on the circumstances, this can be followed up by “I’m just glad your dad’s not around to see this.” On declining that salt be peppered over my food, I’m told: “Oh, I see. You don’t want to taste your food.”

With nearly three quarters of men overweight or obese, it’s more important than ever that slimming males enjoy the backing of females in their lives. Unfortunately, there seems to be fat chance of that happening.